I had an amazing opportunity recently. A local bookbinder, Sonya Sheats, brought over one of the bookbinders that she had studied under named Edgard Claes. Originally from Belgium and now in the Netherlands, Edgard has been a bookbinder for a rather long time. There isn’t a lot of material out there about Edgard’s work in English, but I highly encourage you to take a look around for it (and here’s a google image search to get you started). Edgard’s most famous works tend to be polycarbonate bindings, where the binding is not glued to the text block in any fashion, making it effectively a conservation binding.
The workshop I was fortunate enough to take, however, was not about this kind of binding. Instead it was a binding with wooden boards. Whenever I take workshops I always remind myself to keep my expectations low. Workshops are by their nature rushed affairs and for me that normally equals a book that isn’t always very nice to look at. That’s not the point of the workshop though. The point is to learn techniques that I wouldn’t have been otherwise exposed to.
This time though, I ended up with what you see above. I had an old, ratty copy of Eric Sloane’s Folklore of American Weather lying around that I had partially redone back when I was at North Bennet. It languished on my shelves for years, but it just barely fit into the dimensions needed for this workshop, and more importantly, I was actually excited to work on it.
The binding is an interesting one. Sewn on tapes made of water snake skin (from Norro) backed with silk, end sheets made of Silsuede, and boards made of MDF fiberboard and wood veneer. It’s clever and rather striking. Wooden board bindings are nothing new, of course. I’ve made a few before, but generally you need to use a specific cut of wood or risk the wood warping. The use of MDF in this binding means you can start out with boards an eighth of an inch thick, sand them down to fit in your shoulder, and still not worry about warping. To be honest, it feels a bit like cheating to me, but I can’t argue with how nice it looks. Those little decorations you see are to hide where the tapes are on the board and also offer a nice design opportunity.
It was a pleasure to spend the week working with a variety of talented binders, and I not only learned a new technique, I actually came away with a book I can stand to look at!